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SOM Research Methods Cover:SOM Research Methods Cover
Page 1
Effective Learning Service
Introduction to Research
and Research Methods
Contact details:
Effective Learning Service
Tel: 01274 234414 | Email: [email protected] | Web:
University of Bradford, School of Management
Introduction to Research
This workbook is a short introduction to research and research methods
and will outline some, but not all, key areas of research and research
Research approaches
Stages of the research process
Background reading & information gathering
Data collection
Ethical issues in research
This workbook does not cover a number of important areas of the
research process, particularly
Data analysis
Writing up the research
There are, however, books to assist you in these two important areas, and
to take your general understanding of research and research methods
beyond the introductory notes in his booklet; see page 44.
Students should also consult their own course guidelines on writing
research up the results of their research projects.
Research can be one of the most interesting features of any degree course
as it offers you a measure of control and autonomy over what you learn.
It gives you an opportunity to confirm, clarify, pursue – or even discover –
new aspects of a subject or topic you are interested in.
… a process of enquiry and investigation; it is systematic, methodical and
ethical; research can help solve practical problems and increase
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Introduction to Research
Review or synthesize existing knowledge
Investigate existing situations or problems
Provide solutions to problems
Explore and analyse more general issues
Construct or create new procedures or systems
Explain new phenomenon
Generate new knowledge
…or a combination of any of the above!
(Collis & Hussey, 2003)
Exploratory research
is undertaken when
few or no previous
studies exist. The
aim is to look for
patterns, hypotheses
or ideas that can be
tested and will form
the basis for further
Descriptive research
can be used to
identify and classify
the elements or
characteristics of
the subject, e.g.
number of days lost
because of
industrial action.
Analytical research
often extends the
approach to
suggest or explain
why or how
something is
happening, e.g.
underlying causes
of industrial
Typical research
techniques would
include case studies,
observation and
reviews of previous
related studies and
techniques are most
often used to
collect, analyse and
summarise data.
The aim of
Predictive research
is to speculate
intelligently on
future possibilities,
based on close
analysis of
available evidence
of cause and
effect, e.g.
predicting when
and where future
industrial action
An important
feature of this type might take place
of research is in
locating and
identifying the
different factors
(or variables)
Research can be approached in the following ways:
 Quantitative/Qualitative
 Applied/Basic
 Deductive/Inductive
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Many research projects combine a
number of approaches, e.g. may
use both quantitative and
qualitative approaches
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Introduction to Research
The emphasis of Quantitative
research is on collecting and
analysing numerical data; it
concentrates on measuring the
scale, range, frequency etc. of
This type of research, although
harder to design initially, is usually
highly detailed and structured and
results can be easily collated and
presented statistically.
Qualitative research is more
subjective in nature than
Quantitative research and involves
examining and reflecting on the less
tangible aspects of a research
subject, e.g. values, attitudes,
Although this type of research can
be easier to start, it can be often
difficult to interpret and present the
findings; the findings can also be
challenged more easily.
The primary aim of Basic Research is to improve knowledge generally,
without any particular applied purpose in mind at the outset. Applied
Research is designed from the start to apply its findings to a particular
situation. Students at the school of Management are expected to
engage with an applied research or problem solving research
General ideas
General ideas
Particular Situation
Deductive research moves from general
ideas/theories to specific particular &
situations: the particular is deduced
from the general, e.g. broad theories.
Inductive research moves from
particular situations to make or infer
broad general ideas/theories.
Examples of Deductive/Inductive Research in Action
Imagine you wanted to learn what the word ‘professional’ meant to a
range of people.
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Deductive Approach
It is clear that you would want to have a clear theoretical position prior to
collection of data. You might therefore research the subject and discover
a number of definitions of ‘professional’ from, for example, a number of
professional associations. You could then test this definition on a range of
people, using a questionnaire, structured interviews or group discussion.
You could carefully select a sample of people on the basis of age, gender,
occupation etc.
The data gathered could then be collated and the results analysed and
This approach offers researchers a relatively easy and systematic way of
testing established ideas on a range of people.
Inductive Approach
If you adopted this approach you might start by talking to a range of
people asking for their ideas and definitions of ‘professional’. From these
discussions you could start to assemble the common elements and then
start to compare these with definitions gained from professional
The data gathered could then be collated and the results analysed and
This approach might lead you to arrive at a new definition of the word – or
it might not! This approach can be very time-consuming, but the reward
might be in terms of arriving at a fresh way of looking at the subject.
Research is not ‘neutral’, but reflects a
range of the researcher’s personal interests, values,
abilities, assumptions, aims and ambitions.
In the case of your own proposed research, your own
mixtures of these elements will not only determine the subject of the
research, but will influence your approach to it. It is important to consider
in advance what approach you to take with your research – and why.
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There are essential two main research philosophies (or positions) although
there can be overlap between the two – and both positions may be
identifiable in any research project.
(can also be referred to
‘Quantitative’, ‘Objectivist’,
‘Scientific’, ‘Experimentalist’ or
‘Traditionalist’ (see next page)
(can also be referred to as
‘Qualitative’, ‘Subjectivist’,
‘Humanistic’ or ‘Interpretative’
(see next page)
The research philosophy can impact on the methodology adopted for the
research project.
The term methodology refers to the overall approaches & perspectives to the research
process as a whole and is concerned with the following main issues:
Why you collected certain data
What data you collected
Where you collected it
How you collected it
How you analysed it
(Collis & Hussey, 2003, p.55).
(A research method refers only to the various specific tools or ways data can be collected
and analysed, e.g. a questionnaire; interview checklist; data analysis software etc.).
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Positivistic approaches to research are based on research methodologies
commonly used in science. They are characterised by a detached
approach to research that seeks out the facts or causes of any social
phenomena in a systematic way. Positivistic approaches are founded
on a belief that the study of human behaviour should be conducted
in the same way as studies conducted in the natural
sciences (Collis & Hussey, 2003, p.52).
Positivistic approaches seek to identify, measure
and evaluate any phenomena and to provide
rational explanation for it. This explanation will
attempt to establish causal links and relationships
between the different elements (or variables) of the
subject and relate them to a particular theory or
practice. There is a belief that people do respond to stimulus or forces,
rules (norms) external to themselves and that these can be discovered,
identified and described using rational, systematic and deductive
Phenomenological approaches however, approach research from the
perspective that human behaviour is not as easily measured as
phenomena in the natural sciences. Human motivation is shaped by
factors that are not always observable, e.g. inner thought processes, so
that it can become hard to generalise on, for example, motivation from
observation of behaviour alone. Furthermore, people place their own
meanings on events; meanings that do not always coincide with the way
others have interpreted them.
This perspective assumes that people will often
influence events and act in unpredictable ways
that upset any constructed rules or identifiable
norms – they are often ‘actors’ on a human
stage and shape their ‘performance’ according
to a wide range of variables.
Phenomenological approaches are particularly concerned with
understanding behaviour from the participants’ own subjective
frames of reference. Research methods are chosen therefore, to try
and describe, translate and explain and interpret events from the
perspectives of the people who are the subject of the research.
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The main research methodologies are summarised below and can be
linked to positivistic and phenomenological research positions or
approaches. However, as mentioned earlier, research often contains both
positivistic and phenomenological approaches, e.g. a survey that also
contains qualitative work from participant observation.
Experimental Studies
Longitudinal Studies
Cross-sectional Studies
Case Studies
Action Research
Ethnography (participant
Participative Enquiry
Feminist Perspectives
Grounded Theory
Surveys involve selecting a representative and unbiased sample of
subjects drawn from the group you wish to study.
The main methods of asking questions are by face-to-face or telephone
interviews, by using questionnaires or a mixture of the two.
There are two main types of survey: a descriptive survey: concerned
with identifying & counting the frequency of a particular response among
the survey group, or an analytical survey: to analyse the relationship
between different elements (variables) in a sample group.
Experimental studies are done in carefully controlled and structured
environments and enable the causal relationships of phenomena to be
identified and analysed.
The variables can be manipulated or controlled to observe the effects on
the subjects studied. For example, sound, light, heat, volume of work
levels etc can be managed to observe the effects.
Studies done in laboratories tend to offer the best opportunities for
controlling the variables in a rigorous way, although field studies can be
done in a more ‘real world’ environment. However, with the former, the
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artificiality of the situation can affect the responses of the people studied,
and with the latter, the researcher has less control over the variables
affecting the situation under observation.
These are studies over an extended period to observe the effect that time
has on the situation under observation and to collect primary data (data
collected at first hand) of these changes.
Longitudinal studies are often conducted over several years, which make
them unsuitable for most relatively short taught post-graduate courses.
However, it is possible to base short time scale research on primary data
collected in longitudinal studies by, for example, government agencies,
and focusing research on a close analysis of one or more aspect or
elements of this data.
This is a study involving different organisations or groups of people to look
at similarities or differences between them at any one particular time, e.g.
a survey of the IT skills of managers in one or a number of organisations
at any particular time.
Cross-sectional studies are done when time or resources for more
extended research, e.g. longitudinal studies, are limited.
It involves a close analysis of a situation at one particular point in time to
give a ‘snap-shot’ result.
A case study offers an opportunity to study a particular subject, e.g. one
organisation, in depth, or a group of people, and usually involves
gathering and analysing information; information that may be both
qualitative and quantitative. Case studies can be used to formulate
theories, or be:
Descriptive (e.g. where current practice is described in detail)
Illustrative (e.g. where the case studies illustrate new practices adopted
by an organisation
Experimental (e.g. where difficulties in adopting new practices or
procedures are examined)
Explanatory (e.g. where theories are used as a basis for understanding
and explaining practices or procedures).
(Scapens, 1990)
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Researchers are increasingly using autobiography as a means of
collecting information from small groups of respondents to seek patterns,
underlying issues and life concerns. This method could be used, for
example, to trace the influences of variables, such as social class, gender
and educational experiences on career development and career
progression, or lack of it, within an organisation. It can be, however a
time consuming process as it requires trust to be built between researcher
and the people concerned.
Action research involves an intervention by a researcher to influence
change in any given situation and to monitor and evaluate the results.
The researcher, working with a client, identifies a particular objective, e.g.
ways of improving telephone responses to ‘difficult’ clients, and explores
ways this might be done.
The researcher enters into the situation, e.g. by introducing new
techniques, and monitors the results.
This research requires active co-operation between researcher and client
and a continual process of adjustment to the intervention in the light of
new information and responses to it from respondents.
This form of research evolved from anthropology and the close study of
Ethnography is more usually described as participant observation, and
this is where the researcher becomes a working member of the group or
situation to be observed. The aim is to understand the situation from the
inside: from the viewpoints of the people in the situation. The researcher
shares the same experiences as the subjects, and this form of research
can be particularly effective in the study of small groups/small firms.
Participant observation can be overt (everyone knows it is happening) or
covert (when the subject(s) being observed for research purposes are
unaware it is happening).
This is about research within one’s own group or organisation and involves
the active involvement and co-operation of people who you would
normally work and associate with on a daily basis. The whole group may
be involved in the research and the emphasis is on sharing, agreeing, cooperating and making the research process as open and equal as possible.
Clearly this type of research can work when the student is already an
active and known member of any organisation and may therefore be a
particularly suitable approach for part-time employed students in their
own workplaces.
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Research, from a feminist perspective, focuses on knowledge grounded in
female experiences and is of benefit to everyone, but particularly women.
In a business context, for example, research might centre on the role of
women in an organisation and on their views, roles, influence and
Feminist research perspectives have a number of common starting points.
First, that women and their contributions to social and cultural life have
been marginalized and that this is reflected in past research practice.
Second, that men and male perspectives or norms have dominated
previous research. And third, that gender, as a significant factor in
understanding the world, has been absent from understandings and
interpretations of social phenomena, in favour of other categories, e.g.
social class.
Feminist perspectives draw attention therefore, to how women or
women’s concerns may in previous research have been excluded, ignored
or relegated to the periphery.
It also raises questions therefore about why some forms of knowledge
become or are perceived as more valid than others.
Grounded theory reverses approaches in research that collected data in
order to test the validity of theoretical propositions, in favour of an
approach that emphasises the generation of theory from data.
Theory is generated from observations made, rather than being decided
before the study. This approach seeks to challenge research approaches
that unwittingly or wittingly look for evidence in the data to confirm or
deny established theories or practices; the feeling behind this is that you
will often find out in research what you are looking for! But if an open
mind is kept, new ways of perceiving a subject or new ways of
categorising or applying data gathered may be discovered or advanced.
The aim of grounded theory is then, to approach research with no preconceived ideas about what might be discovered or learned.
Silverman (1993) summarises the main features and stages of grounded
1. An attempt to develop categories which derive from the data;
2. Attempting then to give as many examples as possible in the
categories developed in order to demonstrate their importance
3. Then developing these categories into more general and broader
analytical frameworks (or theories) with relevance to other situations
outside the research subject.
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Examples of Past Research Projects
How do financial advice
services market to the
‘youth market’?
Positivistic approach
Cross-sectional study
Positivistic approach
Cross –sectional study
& in-depth survey of
one company
Disability awareness
training within leisure
Participant observation
Age discrimination in
the workplace
Positivistic and
Survey & case study
Personality Testing: is
this a valid tool in the
recruitment and
selection process?
Both positivistic and
Survey & Participant
Impact of in-store
marketing campaign
Both positivistic and
Participant observation
and survey
Competitor strategies
in the mortgage
Positivistic approach
mainly, but some
elements included
Cross-sectional study
& Focus group
among consumers
Participative enquiry
Impact of
developments in IT on
financial services
The use and application
of purchasing within an
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What do you think are the main advantages
& disadvantages of positivistic & phenomenological approaches
in research? (Write in the spaces below)
Advantages (e.g. positive
Disadvantages (e.g. points of
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Disadvantages/Points of
See comments on page 37
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Introduction to Research
The main stages of research can be summarised, as below. However, in
reality the transition between one stage and another is not always so
clear-cut. For example, during the research it may be necessary to return
back and forth between stages to correct additional data, do additional
reading or adjust a timetable. Nevertheless, students need to carefully
work out a timetable for deadline of completion of each stage. A
vital step for successful research is in working out a workable timetable
that connects with the main stages of research.
1. Establish a general field of interest; discuss with supervisor/tutor
Your target date for this stage =
2. Undertake preliminary & background reading on the subject to be
researched to discover with what is known already and to suggest the
choice of an appropriate research methodology.
Your target date for this stage =
3. Narrow your ideas to a workable topic or research proposal and give it
a title. Decide on the most appropriate methods for gathering data,
e.g. questionnaire; observation; review of available information etc.
Your target date for this stage =
4. Preparation of information gathering ‘tools’, e.g. questionnaires,
interview sheets etc (if relevant) & then information gathering stage.
This can take a significant amount of time, so allow plenty of time for
Your target date for this stage =
5. Collation, analyse and interpretation of research data. There will
undoubtedly be a need to continue reading on the topic to make
connections with other current and related research. This can take a
significant amount of time, so allow plenty of time for this.
Your target date for this stage =
6. Write first draft of research project report.
Your target date for this stage =
7. Revision and re-write dissertation; submit dissertation
Your target date for this stage =
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1. Establish a general field of interest:
It is very important that the research subject will be of real
interest to you. You will spend a lot of time on the research so a strong
interest in the chosen topic is vital. A strong interest will carry you over
the difficulties, delays and irritations that most researchers will
experience. You will need to discuss your choice or research topic with
your supervisor/tutor.
Before you decide however, on a choice of project you should be aware of
the School of Management requirements for projects, e.g. for MBA
Projects these state:
The project can be undertaken as a company-based or as a School of Management-based
The project has to be a piece of applied research and problem solving. The literature
element of the research is generally only supportive and not a project objective in itself.
The project is concerned with problem solving, should have a strong policy-based thrust
and must have a sound conceptual basis.
The problem area must be of a sufficient depth so as to allow a detailed analysis. Microscale studies more easily lend themselves to in-depth analysis than do macro-scale projects.
Preparing and writing the project necessitates ten weeks full-time work equivalent, that is a
minimum of 400 hours. This includes discussing and defining the problem area, reading,
data-collection, analysis and report writing, proof reading, copying and binding.
(from MBA Management Project Guidelines, 2003/4)
What research interests have you? Write your thoughts in the space below.
At this stage, just keep your ideas broad and general.
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Why are you interested in the above subject or topic? Write your
thoughts in the space below:
Try now and think about your research title and possible research approach. Use the
grid below to try and think this through. Your ideas are just provisional at this stage,
so no one will commit you to them – you can change your mind!
(Think of a title that
describes succinctly the
nature of your proposed
(i.e. positivistic/
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e.g. case, study,
survey, crosssectional studies etc
The ‘tools’ or
methods to collect
primary data, e.g.
interviews etc
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Introduction to Research
2. Background & Preparatory Reading
This is an essential stage of the research process, for the following
 It is essential to know what work has been done previously in the
topic area. There is no point in you spending hours, weeks and
months to produce a research outcome that someone else has already
 It will help you therefore identify research possibilities and to tailor or
slant your particular research project to gain new insights or
perspectives on the chosen topic
 This in turn will help you develop a research methodology appropriate
to the chosen project
 It will help you to justify your choice of research topic at the project
proposal stage to your supervisor/tutor.
One time-saving approach to background and preparatory reading is to
select a just a few key books or articles initially on the chosen topic area
and use these as a base for identifying other relevant texts as a starting
point for your information search.
A checklist for analysing the literature and for helping to determine your
own research approach has been suggested by Collis & Hussey (2003), as
What was the purpose of the previous study and how does it
differ from other studies I have encountered and my own
research ideas?
How was the previous research conducted and how does it differ
from other studies and my own proposed research?
What were the findings and how do they differ from other
studies, and what I expect to find?
What were the limitations and weaknesses of these previous
By engaging actively with previous studies in this way, you will strengthen
your initial research proposal and enhance your final project report by
offering clear justification for both the choice of research topic and
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Bank of England (UK economic reports)
BIZED (useful site for business studies students)
BIDS (academic publications)
DTI Publications (UK government)
Economist (magazine)
Emerald (academic publications)
European Union
FAME (financial and other data from Companies House)
Financial Times (news and annual reports service)
FreePint (range of useful Market Research resources, including featured
articles, archive and student ‘bar’ for help on tricky research questions &
HMSO Publications (UK government)
HRM (links & guides for HRM in UK, USA, Canada & Australia)
HSBC (Business Profiles: economic & business information for over 40
ICAEW (accounting publications)
Ingenta (academic publications)
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Institute of Fiscal Studies (UK taxation and economics)
ISI Web of Science (citation index)
JISC (academic publications)
Listed Companies (annual reports for listed companies in Europe and
National Statistics Online (UK government)
Mintel (market analysis)
NISS (news, publications & other information & good links to academic
Research Index (list of UK market research & telemarketing companies)
Small Business Portal
Small Business Service (UK government)
Social Sciences Information Gateway (including business, economics
& research methods)
UkOnline (UK government)
United Nations (news & publications)
WWW Virtual Library (useful links to business related sites)
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3. Gather Information & Data
Your research project should include empirical research (i.e. primary
research) data. The ways that data can be gathered include:
 One-to-one interviews with key informants in an organisation
(these might be face to face or by telephone)
 Focus groups: discussion & interviews
 Participant observation
 A questionnaire survey, e.g. of relevant people in an organisation,
or of consumers, customers etc. This can be done using printed or
electronic questionnaires
However, other approaches can be used too, e.g. autobiography, diary
methods, Internet etc.
It is also possible to engage in problem solving research by an analysis of
secondary data relevant to the chosen topic, but you will need to discuss
this acceptability of this approach with your tutor
Interviews can be grouped into three main types:
1. Structured
2. Semi-structured
3. Unstructured
Structured Interviews
Structured interviews involve the use of questionnaires based on a
predetermined and identical set of questions. The questions are usually
read out by a researcher in a neutral tone of voice to avoid influencing or
prompting a particular response from a participant. (see also the section
on questionnaires)
Semi-Structured Interviews
The interviewer will have a list of themes and areas to be covered and
there may be some standardised questions, but the interviewer may omit
or add to some of these questions or areas, depending on the situation
and the flow of the conversation.
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Unstructured Interviews
These are informal discussions where the interviewer wants to explore indepth a particular topic with another person in a spontaneous way.
However, even in unstructured interviews it is likely that the researcher
would have a pre-decided range of topics to cover in the discussion.
What types of research project might favour a structured interview approach?
Write in the space below
What types of research project might favour a semi-structured or
unstructured interview approach? Write in the space below.
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Interviews, whether they be structured or semi/unstructured, can
sometimes be problematic. What factors might affect the outcome of
any particular interview? (Write in the space below)
See comments on pages 37-43
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Focus groups are used to gather data, usually in the
forms of opinions, from a selected group of people on a
particular and pre-determined topic, e.g. consumer
topic; political topic etc.
The researcher creates a relaxed atmosphere and records in some way
what is being said (e.g. by use of a tape-recorder, video, note-taker etc).
The purpose of the discussion is introduced and discussion ground-rules
agreed. The researcher encourages free discussion, but is ready to
intervene if necessary to resolve group problems.
Focus groups can be a useful way of finding out what the main issues and
concerns of any group are. This can help in questionnaire design or to
develop a future interview strategy. They can be a useful way too, of
bringing to the surface issues that might not otherwise have been
discovered: the dynamics of a group can often make people bolder in
advancing their opinions.
What might happen in a focus group to cause the researcher to
intervene? Write in the space below.
See comments on pages
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As discussed earlier, participant
observation is when a researcher attempts
to observe in some way in the group
being researched and to share in the
experiences being recorded and analysed.
It can be used in association with other research approaches or as the
primary way of gathering data. It can be a good way of getting below the
surface of any situation and to help reveal or unravel complex causal
social processes.
The researcher can play an overt or covert role and the role the
researcher can adopt in this situation has been summarised by Gill &
Johnson (1977):
Complete participant
Complete observer
Observer as participant
Participant as observer
Complete Participant
The identity and purpose of researcher is not revealed to other
group members
The researcher attempts to become a full covert member of the
Example: study of leadership styles in action
Complete Observer
The purpose of research activity not revealed to those being
The researcher does not take part in the activities being observed
Example: a detached study of consumer behaviour in a supermarket
Observer as Participant
The researcher’s role is known to others in the group
Researchers participate in activities, but their engagement with
group activities may be fairly superficial or spasmodic, as their role
is to observe the ‘real’ participants.
Example: Observing team-building exercises (taking part, but only in a
superficial way, without real emotional involvement).
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Participant as Observer
The researcher’s role is known to all others in the group
The researcher would engage fully in all the activities and
experience it totally themselves, plus observe and talk to other
participants about their experiences
Example: Attending and fully participating in an assessment centre
selection day and taking an active part in all the activities
Data Collection as a Participant Observer
This can be in the form of:
 Primary Observations: where the researcher notes what actually
happened or what was actually said at the time
 Secondary Observations: interpretative statements by observers
of what happened
 Experiential Data: a record of the researcher’s feelings/values and
how these changed, if applicable, over time
All three forms of data collection might be included in a research project
One example of participant observation would be the observation of
consumer behaviour in supermarkets, and the reactions of both checkout cashiers and customers to queues. How much interaction is there
between cashiers and customers in this situation? How do customers
appear to choose a queue to join? (this could be followed-up with
selected questioning of customers.
Participant observation can present a researcher with a range of
advantages & disadvantages to consider beforehand or
afterwards. What might these be? Write your comments in the
space provided on the following page.
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See comments on pages 37-43
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Main points to remember when designing and using questionnaires:
(adapted from Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill (2003), pp.315-6)
a) Questionnaires facilitate the collection of data by asking all, or a
sample of people, to respond to the same questions. They can
be in both printed and electronic forms.
b) There are five types of questionnaire approaches:
On-line (electronic)
Postal (printed)
Delivery & collection (printed)
Telephone (electronic/printed)
Interview face to face/group (electronic or printed)
c) You need to absolutely clear before you design a
questionnaire what it is you want to learn and what data
you need to obtain to enlighten you in this search. You also need
to think ahead about how you are going to collate the
information you gather. There is no point in designing a
questionnaire that produces a range of information you find very
difficult to collate in any meaningful quantitative or qualitative
d) The validity (the extent to which the data accurately measures
what they were intended to measure) and reliability (the
extent to which the data collection method will yield consistent
findings if replicated by others) of the data you collect depend
on the design of the questionnaire and the words that you use.
e) Questions can be open or closed:
Open questions: a question is posed, but space is left
for the respondent’s own answer (the questions posed to you in
this workbook have all been open questions)
e.g. Please tell me which brand you prefer, and why in the space
that follows
Closed: where a limited number of alternative responses to the
set question are provided. These can be in list, category, ranking,
scale/rating, grid or other quantitative form. They can be precoded on a questionnaire to facilitate analysis.
e.g. Please tick the box shown below with the brand you prefer
f) The order and flow of questions should be logical to the
g) There can be a low rate of return with questionnaires, so they
need to be introduced carefully and courteously to potential
respondents. This introduction can include the use of a covering
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letter; offering a prize or other inducement can also improve the
rate of return of questionnaires.
h) All questionnaires should be piloted, if possible, with a small
group before the main research to assess their value, validity
and reliability.
What do you think are the respective research advantages
disadvantages of asking open questions and closed questions?
Open Questions
Closed Questions
See comments on pages 37-43
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1. Specific Information Request
In which year did you start the degree course? _____________
2. Category
Have you ever been or are you a student representative? (Tick which)
Yes (currently)
Yes (in the past)
3. Multiple Choice
Do you view the money you have spent on your higher education as any of the following?
If so, tick which.
A luxury
A right
An investment
None of these
A necessity
A gamble
A burden
4. Scale
How would you describe your parents attitude to higher education at the time you applied?
Please tick one of the options below.
Very Positive
Very Negative
Not Sure
5. Ranking
What do you see as the main purpose(s) of your degree study? Please
rank all those relevant in order from 1 (most important) downwards:
Personal Development 
Career Advancement 
Subject Interest
Intellectual Stimulation 
Fulfil Ambition
 (give details)……………………………………………………………………………………………..
6. Grid or Table
How would you rank the benefits of your degree study for each of the following? Please
rank each item:
Not Sure
7. Open Questions
Please summarise the benefits of your degree study in the space below:
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(source: Collis & Hussey, 2003)
1. Explain the purpose of the questionnaire to all participants
2. Keep your questions as simple as possible
3. Do not use jargon or specialist language (unless the recipients
really prefer and understand it)
4. Phrase each question so that only one meaning is possible
5. Avoid vague, descriptive words, such as ‘large’ and ‘small’
6. Avoid asking negative questions as these are easy to
7. Only ask one question at a time
8. Include relevant questions only
9. Include, if possible, questions which serve as cross-checks on
the answers to other questions
10. Avoid questions which require participants to perform
11. Avoid leading or value-laden questions which imply what the
required answer might be
12. Avoid offensive questions or insensitive questions which could
cause embarrassment
13. Avoid asking ‘difficult’ questions, e.g. where the respondent
may struggle to answer (people hate to look stupid by not
knowing the ‘answer’).
14. Keep your questionnaire as short as possible, but include all the
questions you need to cover your purposes
Please comment on the wording of the following open questions taken
from a range of questionnaires.
1. How satisfactory was
your stay at the
Carlton Hotel?
2. What is your place of
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3. Some people say that
the city is spending
too much on building
new schools. Do you
agree or disagree?
4. How much time did
you spend reading the
newspaper yesterday?
5. What is your religion?
6. How old are you?
7. Does your employer
make adequate
provision for
See comments on page 37-43
In a positivistic study, when seeking the views of a group of fifty or less,
Henry (1990) argues against any form of sampling. He argues that you
should distribute questionnaires and collect data to the entire population,
if possible.
To elicit the views of larger groups, some form of sampling is usually
necessary to attempt to gather opinions that are likely to be
representative of the whole group.
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Sampling strategies are divided into two main groups: probability and
non-probability sampling.
Probability Sampling:
Where the researcher has a
significant measure of control
over who is selected and on
the selection methods for
choosing them.
Sampling methods allow for
representative cross-sections,
or particular groups to be
identified or targeted.
Main Methods:
Simple Random Sampling:
(selection at random by the
researchers from a choice of
Systematic Sampling:
(selecting by the researchers at
numbered intervals, e.g. every
one person in five in the target
Stratified Sampling:
(sampling within particular
sections of the target groups,
e.g. you target a specific number
of people based on the
percentage of the total group
that share the same
So, for example, in a study of an
organisation that had 50
supervisors & 800 labourers, a
10% representative sample of
this population would target 5
supervisors & 80 labourers to
Cluster Sampling:
of Probability
a particular
cluster of
the subject group)
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Non-Probability Sampling:
Where the researcher has little
initial control over the choice of
who is presented for selection, or
where controlled selection of
participants is not a critical factor.
Main Methods:
Convenience Sampling:
(sampling those most
convenient; those immediately
Voluntary Sampling:
(the sample is selfselecting; they come forward
voluntarily in response to an
Purposive Sampling:
(enables you to use your
judgement to choose people that
are presented or are available
that best meet your objectives or
your target groups).
‘Snowball’ Sampling:
(building up a sample through
informants. You start with one
person – who then suggests
another & so on)
Event Sampling
(using the opportunity presented
by a particular event, e.g. a
conference, to make contacts)
Time Sampling
(recognising that different times
or days of the week or year may
be significant and sampling at
these times or days.
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Source: Blaxter, L. Hughes, C. & Tight, M. (1998) How to Research. Buckingham: Open
University Press.
In 1991 there was a study of the personal characteristics of 48 highly successful
women. The 48 were contacted through the chairpersons of woman’s business
networks across England. The names of potential respondents were passed to the
researchers, who wrote to the women concerned and invited them to participate in the
survey, which included the completion of a questionnaire and interview with the
What sampling strategy do you think was used in this study?
(See comments on page 43)
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As a general rule, a response rate of 30 per cent or greater for a
postal/externally sent questionnaire is generally regarded as reasonable.
However, a goal of 50 per cent or more responses should be attempted in
any questionnaire that involved face-to-face interviews.
There are techniques that can help improve response rates to postal or
electronic questionnaires:
Follow-up calls (especially telephone reminders and special
delivery letters)
Pre-contact with
Type of postage (special delivery is superior to ordinary mail;
there is also some evidence that hand-written white envelopes are
more likely to be opened than brown/typed!)
Rewards: prizes, or better still, cash incentives.
Personalizing the questionnaire:
name, e.g. ‘Dear John’ etc.
Emphasising Confidentiality: ensuring that all views to be
published remain anonymous, if appropriate
Appeals to the respondent: based on the social, personal or
other benefits that might flow from the participation of a
writing to the person by
 Postal questionnaires should always include a stamped return
envelope and have a covering letter explaining the purpose of the
questionnaire and the use intended for the findings in the future.
 The researcher should include full contact details and the offer to
discuss the questionnaire with any respondent who has doubts or
queries about it.
The researcher should always offer to share the research findings with
any participant, if requested, and this offer is best made in the covering
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Ethical concerns may emerge at all stages of research.
Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2003, p. 131) summarise the main issues
to consider, although the ethical issues surrounding these items are not
always clear-cut:
The rights of privacy of individuals
Voluntary nature of participation – and the rights of individuals to
withdraw partially or completely from the process
Consent and possible deception of participants
Maintenance of the confidentiality of data provided by individuals or
identifiable participants and their anonymity
Reactions of participants to the ways in which researchers seek to
collect data
Effects on participants of the way in which data is analysed and
Behaviour and objectivity of the researcher
1. Misleading People
Sometimes, if the real reasons behind the research were disclosed to
those whose behaviour is being studied, they would refuse to co-operate,
or alter their behaviour. Example: Roy Wallis, a sociologist, wanted to
investigate a controversial religious organisation, but he knew the leaders
of the movement were unlikely to agree. He covertly joined the movement
and participated in an introductory course. As part of this introductory
course he had to sign a pledge that he would not disclose to others details
of it. He signed this – but went on to publish his view of this course.
Was his behaviour ethical? He argued that it was in the interest of society
that he published details of what went on inside secretive organisations.
What do you think?
2. Publishing Results
The publication of research findings may prove damaging, embarrassing
or offensive to the people involved – either because they are portrayed in
an unattractive way, or because they would prefer to keep their attitudes
or modes of behaviour private. In any organisation there are likely to be
‘grey’ areas of conduct or attitudes that the organisation would be
reluctant to find in the public domain through research. A researcher once
said ‘a good study will make someone angry’. But the researcher has to
bear in mind the possible consequences of the publication of findings. The
findings may, for example, be used to disadvantage groups of participants
who had been cooperative and helpful in the research, and this can cause
researchers some personal distress. Wherever possible, the researcher will
want to discuss the issues emerging from the research directly with those
touched by it before it is made public. To what extent should the
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researcher be influenced by possible future negative responses to the
Another issue concerning publication regards researchers exaggerating or
even falsifying research findings to get their work published. The career
of an academic is advanced through publications, but unfortunately there
have been a few past cases of researchers willing to falsify their findings
to gain publicity. This is, of course, highly unethical and immoral – as is
agreeing to omit or downplay results to avoid embarrassing a research
sponsor. This last point is important, as it can easily happen that research
findings are unexpectedly disagreeable to a sponsor of the project, and
pressure can be bought to bear on the researcher to ‘play down’, omit,
hide etc., these awkward findings.
3. Confidentiality
This is an important – perhaps the most important – issue to consider in
research. Students need to be aware therefore, what the School of
Management has to say about this, for example in the MBA Management
Project Guidelines:
Frequently, the nature of a project necessitates the student having access to sensitive
information about a company's business. The company may require the student to keep
such information confidential, and occasionally may ask the student to sign a formal
confidentiality agreement.
If the project report contains confidential information the company may ask the
University to keep the report confidential. Any such request should be sent in writing to
the Projects Co-ordinator. After marking, confidential reports are kept under restricted
access for 2 years instead of being placed in the library. If access needs to be restricted
for a longer period application must be made again in writing at the end of this time.
Similarly, if a student is employed by a company to do research, he/she does so on behalf
of the company and this should be declared to other parties. It is not acceptable practice
to use 'MBA student' as a cover to obtain competitor information.
(Section 12.6 ‘Confidentiality’, from MBA Management Project Guidelines)
The last sentence of the above expresses a real fear that companies have,
that a student researcher will disclose sensitive company information,
divulge market plans, ‘steal’ information, etc. and students need to be
alert and sensitive to these anxieties.
Checklist for Ethical Research
1. Will the research process harm participants or those whom
information is gathered?
2. Are the findings likely to cause harm to others not involved in the
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3. Are you violating accepted research practice in conducting the
research and data analysis, and drawing conclusions?
4. Are you violating community or professional standards of
(Kervin, 1992, p. 38)
Is your proposed research likely to cause any ethical difficulties? If so, please make
some notes in the space immediately below, and discuss these with your tutor as
soon as possible.
Possible ethical issues:
In this workbook a number of questions were raised and you were invited
to think about your answers or responses to these. Our responses to
these questions can be found on the following pages.
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What do you think are the main research advantages
& disadvantages of positivistic & phenomenological approaches?
Suitable for research projects that
require a structured and qualitative
Highly structured research design
imposes pre-arranged limits and
boundaries to research
Good for research projects, for
example, that are descriptive in
nature, i.e. identifies and quantifies
the element parts of any
phenomena: the ‘what’ aspects of
Not a particular good approach to
take if you are trying to explain
why things happen
Standardisation makes collation and
codifying of gathered data easier
Assumes that researchers can be
totally objective, but researchers
may allow their own values,
interests to influence the approach,
for example, in the questions posed
Research methods easier to
reproduce and for other researchers
to test your conclusions
It is very difficult to capture the
complex interplay of phenomena in
a single measure
You need to use a large sample to
be able to make generalisations
from results
You can use a relatively small
sample for your studies
Enables you to gather data that is
‘rich’ in personal comment and
personal insights
Enables you to explore below the
presenting surface of an issue
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The findings are subjective and it
can be difficult to assert wider more
generalised points from the
research – or your findings would
be more open to the charge that
wider ideas that you assert flow
from your studies cannot be
Your research would be very hard to
reproduce if another researcher
wanted to reproduce the survey and
test your findings.
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What types of research project might favour a structured
interview approach?
Research projects that aim to be descriptive in nature, or where you are
aiming for high reliability (the research findings can be easily tested by
other research using same methodology). This approach to interview is
suitable for gathering data that can then be analysed in a precise way.
What types of research project might favour a semi-structured or
unstructured interview approach?
Research projects that are exploratory or explanatory in nature, that is,
to discover the ‘why’ (reasons/motives) for things. It is suitable for
research that tries to understand the relationships between variables, and
where you need to probe, explore or seek for new insights into a subject.
Interviews, whether they be structured or semi/unstructured, can
sometimes be problematic. What factors might affect the outcome of
any particular interview?
There are a number of potential problem areas associated with interviews:
Demeanour of interviewer
Suspicion of the interviewer
Conduct of interview
Bias is one of the most significant issues in interviewing, as it can affect
the responses of the interviewee to the interviewer, and vice versa.
Interviews are human encounters and a range of issues can influence and
colour our perceptions of the people we encounter – including
interviewers. We like or dislike someone, often without quite knowing
why, and this can affect our responses to them. A range of factors can
come into play: gender, race, age, speech, appearance and attitude.
Sexual bias is a particular significant factor. Rosenthal (1966) has
suggested that there is the possibility of sexual bias in interviewers and
that both male and female researchers behave more warmly towards
female subjects than they do towards male subjects.
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The way to reduce bias is to be actively alert to the following key issues in
interviewing: demeanour, suspicion, confidentiality and the way you
conduct the interview
Generally speaking, we often like people who appear to like us!
The interviewer should then, appear to be interested in the interviewee,
but in a neutral and detached way: ‘neutrally interested’ is perhaps the
best way of describing the best interviewer-interviewee relationship. The
tone of voice of the interviewer is important, as it should project an
impression of quiet confidence and quiet enthusiasm in the
topic under discussion. Torrington (1991) suggests that
an open posture is best, where the interviewer sits
slightly forward toward the interviewee, keeps regular
eye contact, and avoids folded arms. The interviewer
must avoid appearing shocked, disbelieving or
astonished by comments made by interviewees.
The interviewer wear clothes similar to those of the
interviewees: too scruffy, or too over-dressed can
affect the credibility of the interviewer.
People are increasingly suspicious of interviewers and their motives. Most
people have experience of being stopped in the street by an interviewer
who appears to be asking questions in a neutral way but is really seeking
to make a marketing contact for a commercial organisation. The true
purpose of the interview should be carefully explained to the interviewee
and how the data collected will be used. Wherever possible, the student
researcher should have a letter from a University tutor explaining the
research initiative, e.g. it is part of a legitimate first or post-graduate
course. Wherever possible, the interviewer should send details of the
interview process and agenda to interviewees in advance, for example
explaining the estimated length of time it will take, the aim and purpose
of the questions to be asked and the range of questions likely to be asked.
Part of the suspicion shown toward interviewers concerns the issue of
confidentiality, and interviewees may be worried about disclosing sensitive
information in case it has negative repercussions in some way against
them. Interviewees may also be concerned that their personal details
would be passed on to commercial organisations and that they would be
subsequently pestered to buy things.
Interviewees must be given a complete reassurance about confidentiality
and told who will see the data obtained – and don’t forget this is likely to
include at least two university tutors and possibly one external examiner.
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The interviewer should be assured that his or her views will be generalised
in the final report or that any direct quotes used would remain anonymous
unless the interviewee wishes otherwise. The interviewer needs
subsequently to take pains to avoid revealing the identity of respondents
by using false names and not giving any clues to the identity of any
The opening stages of an interview are particularly important. Saunders,
Lewis and Thornhill (2003) make the following suggestions on conducting
a semi-structured interview:
The interviewee is thanked for agreeing to the meeting
The purpose of the research, its funding (if relevant) and progress
to date are briefly outlined
The interviewee is given an assurance regarding confidentiality (see
next section)
The interviewee’s right not to answer questions is emphasised and
the interview could be terminated at any time by the interviewee
The interviewee is told about the use intended to be made of the
data collected during and after the project
The offer of any written documentation to the interviewee promised
in advance of the meeting should be emphasised
The interviewer describes the process of the interview, e.g.
approximate number and range of questions to be asked and the
time is was likely to take.
What might happen in a focus group to cause the researcher to
The researcher would want to intervene in the following situations:
 If one group member was dominating the discussion
 If the group strayed from discussing the topic in question
 To encourage quieter members of the group to contribute to the
 To resolve any conflicts that arose between group members
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Participant observation can present a researcher with a range of
advantages & disadvantages to consider beforehand or afterwards.
What might these be?
It allows the researcher to observe
at first hand and get below the
surface of a particular situation
It heightens the awareness of a
researcher to social processes that
can influence behaviour
It allows the researcher to observe
the relationship of different
It can enable a researcher to gain
insights into a situation that
otherwise would not have been
recognised or observed
It can allow, in the case of overt
participation, the researcher to gain
the trust of the people being
Access to an organisation for overt
participation may be very difficult
There may be role-conflict.
Researchers may lose their
objectivity if they become too close
emotionally to the people they are
The researcher may encounter
suspicion and even hostility from
people, who suspect the motives for
the research and may be worried
about their livelihoods.
The presence of a researcher (overt
participation) can have an impact
on the behaviour of the people
being observed: the ‘observer
effect’. They may change the way
they behave if they are aware they
are being observed.
It is very time-consuming and can
generate a large amount of
data/commentary that will need to
be collated (also see below)
Recording and collating data from
observations can be difficult and the
researcher may need to adopt
structured observation, where
tasks/responses etc are identified
and broken down into elements and
the frequency of actions or
responses noted and later collated.
Taking notes in any covert situation
presents real problems, as the
researcher may not be a position to
openly record observations. In this
situation, the researcher must
record his or her observations as
soon as possible afterwards.
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What do you think are the respective research advantages and
disadvantages of asking open questions and closed questions?
Open Questions
Closed Questions
Often easier for respondents
(particularly those who are busy)
to answer
Enable you to get below the
surface, explore and probe
Encourages respondents to think
and offer considered answers
Encourages respondents to give
honest opinions
Easier to collate than open
The questionnaire can be easily
reproduced by other researchers
who wanted to test your findings
Open Questions
Closed Questions
The responses can be hard to
The research may be difficult for
others to reproduce, so your
findings may be open to doubt or
They limit the choices (of
answers) to respondents and
gives them less control over their
It is harder to get below the
surface of an issue
1. How satisfactory was
your stay at the
Carlton Hotel?
A vague question, and it would be better
to offer a range of questions relating to
specific aspects of the person’s stay in
the hotel.
2. What is your place of
This question is capable of
misinterpretation, as ‘place of residence’
might be seen as the road, town, county,
country etc.
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3. Some people say that
the city is spending
too much on building
new schools. Do you
agree or disagree?
This question presents just one
perspective on the topic. It would be
better to include both perspectives, e.g.
“Some people say that the city is spending
too much on building new schools, whilst
others argue not enough is being spent?
What is your view?”
4. How much time did
you spend reading the
newspaper yesterday?
There is an assumption being made here
that the person did or should have read a
newspaper. Respondents faced with such a
question may be tempted to make
something up to save face.
5. What is your religion?
Again, this assumes the respondent has an
affiliation to a particular religion. In this
case it is better to offer respondents a
choice of religious groups, plus options for
atheists, agnostics and others.
6. How old are you?
This is a stark and abrupt way of asking
this sensitive question and some
respondents might take offence at it. It is
better to either offer respondents a choice
of boxes to tick with age cohorts, e.g. 3039, or ask for a year of birth.
7. Does your employer
make adequate
provision for
The word adequate is vague and imprecise
and may be based on a particular model of
maternity/paternity leave arrangement
known to the researcher, but not to the
participant. It would be better to simply
ask what provision the respondent’s
employer makes for maternity/paternity
In 1991 there was a study of the personal characteristics of 48 highly
successful women. The 48 were contacted through the chairpersons of
woman’s business networks across England. The names of potential
respondents were passed to the researchers, who wrote to the women
concerned and invited them to participate in the survey, which included
the completion of a questionnaire and interview with the researcher.
Question: what sampling strategy do you think was used in this study?
This was an example of purposive sampling (non-probability).
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Bibliography & Suggested Reading
 Blaxter, L. Hughes, C. & Tight, M. (1998) How to Research.
Buckingham: Open University Press.
 Collis, J. & Hussey, R. (2003) Business Research: a practical guide
for undergraduate and postgraduate students, second edition.
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
 Denscombe, M. (2002) Ground Rules for Good Research,
Maidenhead: Open University Press.
 Gill, J. & Johnson, P. (1997) Research Methods for Manager (2nd
edition), London: Paul Chapman.
 Henry, G.T. (1990) Practical Sampling, Newbury Park, CA, Sage.
 Kervin, J.B. (1992) Methods for Business Research. NY: Harper
 Rosenthal, R. (1966) Experimenter Effects in Behavioural Research.
N.Y. Appleton-Century-Crofts.
 Saunders, M, Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2007) Research Methods for
Business Students (4th edition) Harlow: Prentice Hall.
 Silverman, D. (1993) Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for
Analysing Talk, Text and Interaction. London: Sage.
 Torrington, D. (1991) management Face to Face. London: Prentice
© This booklet was written by Colin Neville and must not be reproduced
without permission. Last updated July 2007.
If you have any queries please contact Martin Sedgley, Effective
Learning Advisor, University of Bradford School of Management.
Telephone: 01274 234320
Email: [email protected].
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